The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 10

Do the 'Pull Over!'

Leaving Ivan alone with his chicken, I walked down the dock to Sea Lab. It was a big step not wanting him to come with me when he asked. I wanted him with me all the time but I had work to do. I didn't need to be distracted.

Unlocking the sliding glass doors, I pushed the glass doors open wide and then the curtains to allow a maximum of fresh air to circulate inside. The stale air was more obvious to me now.

I began smelling the fresh salty air hanging on the breeze and blowing off the Gulf and into the cove.

Sliding the salons back panel to one side, I sat in my office looking out over the stern at the new section of dock.

Politically speaking, this was the area where business was done. If there was a deal to be reached, a donation to be had, or policy being discussed, the main salon was where it was done. My office, with the desk pushed against the wall and my chair there for someone to use as a seat, it added six feet to what was a fair sized room.

There was comfortable seating for eight in the salon. A dozen could be managed if chairs were set on the deck outside the open glass doors.

Harry liked to entertain three or four if he wanted the experience to be intimate and just one if he wanted someone to know how important he was.

In each of the instances, whether a full house or a single guest, there was but one captain of Sea Lab, and Harry insisted on introducing me as such.

Seated in the salon with his guest or guests', he'd use the intercom to summon Captain Olson off the bridge.

It was a bit of a kick dressing the part. My captain's uniform was tailored and kept at Harry's house, ready for the next performance. It would be sent to the Sea Lab before the guests came on board. While I dressed, they were having drinks at Harry's before being chauffeured to the marina by Reginald in the big black limo.

Harry would take them to Sea Lab, having mooring lines removed, as he was the last on board. A wave told me to start the engines and in a few minutes we were leaving the cove.

Harry knew the game and the show that went with his status. A good politician had aides, secretaries, executive staff, and soon to be Senator Harry McCallister had a boat, a sea captain, and his own in house marine biologist to give him the credentials that said he knew what he was talking about when he talked about the environment, clean water, clean air, and a healthy environment for all of America.

I was part of the show before Sea Lab was donated to Harry's conservancy. We entertained the rich and famous and friends of his father's who wanted to stay close to the power.

I knew by the look on guests faces, once Harry fetched me off the bridge, they loved my part in Harry's show. My slide show and a new presentation each time impressed some, but if they weren't already impressed by Harry and Sea Lab, I probably wasn't going to do it for them.

Up until now, I didn't mind being the captain in Harry's show. It made me feel more important to know they wanted to hear my talk. It gave the owner of businesses on the Gulf hope, even if I was a prop in the Harry McCallister floating circus. I was there, under the big top, to look good and sound professional.

I never tired of telling the story of the conservancy and the Gulf without mentioning Harry until the end.

Giving him a big build up, Harry took a bow and he gave the latest batch of donors a pep talk on his efforts to pass legislation to protect the Gulf, the air, and the people who breathe it. They never got tired of hearing Harry say it. It's what they came to hear.

He was the man and I was the schmuck who made a spectacle of himself in Tampa in front of the very people Harry would invite on board Sea Lab.

Everyone knew that a prop should never upstage the star. It wasn't done but I'd done it and I'd be apologizing until election day. I'd eat my humble pie and keep my trap shut.

Harry was going to the senate. He knew the game and he played it well. He did what he told his donors he'd do. The people loved him because Harry not only made businesses more lucrative, but in doing it, he kept the life's blood of Florida humming along.

Tourists couldn't get enough of the Sunshine state. Life was good and Harry's politics made the people feel like beneficiaries of his dedication to Florida.

I'd swallow my pride and do my job. It took quite a while to get back where I was before Tampa. I was back and I'd do whatever Harry asked me to do. I owed him that and more.

He never scolded me for behaving badly. He knew I was sorry for making them sit through my temper tantrum. I'd face them with a smile and see to it I never went off the rails again. Opening the salon gave me a new perspective on what I did and what I needed to do. The Sea Lab was part of my identity when it came to Harry and the conservancy. It was a vital part of what I do.

If I only drove Harry's boat and washed the glasses for the drinkers to have drinks, I'd have done that too. Without Harry I'd still be fishing on Mr. Aleksa's boat. He did everything he said he'd do. I owed my career to Harry and I'd do my best to do my best. Save our Gulf of Mexico wasn't a snappy slogan. It's what I'd been called on to do. Preserving the beauty in the sea would be what I dedicated the rest of my career to doing.

I was putting the gloves back on. There was going to be a fight and I was ready for it now.

I'd finally taken Sea Lab on a rigorous shakedown cruise deep into the Gulf, after she spent over two months in her slip. The sounds and the gauges said everything was shipshape. I needed to take a tour of the boat's systems to be sure there were no obvious leaks or damage that caught my eye. If I caught trouble early, it wouldn't gain a foothold.

Spending a half hour going over Sea Lab's political career, led to thoughts of my political career. More precisely, my service to Harry's political career. It's part of the job I signed up for long before Sea Lab sailed into my life.

I opened the door of my office, stepping into the main walkway. I moved forward toward, checking doors as I went. They were secure. I opened the door to the engine room, taking a flashlight off the shelf at the top of the stairs. I turned on the light over the stairs and I went down. Shining the light ahead of me, I walked toward the Detroit Diesels at Sea Lab's stern, shining the light into nooks and crannies in search of fluid. By keeping the overhead lights off, fluids shined when a light passed over them.

There was no fluid and I retraced my steps to the main corridor.

I walked toward the stern, unlocking and checking each lab as I came to it. I wanted to make sure all the equipment was there and switched off. It affirmed no one had been on Sea Lab since the last time I locked her up.

I'd been on Sea Lab to go to see Harold. Otherwise I hadn't done a full inspection. Today I ran Sea Lab hard and deep into the Gulf. A complete inspection couldn't wait and once done, I was satisfied.

Once again I was stopped in my tracks by a niggle in my neck. I instinctively thought I was forgetting something.

I was certainly forgetting something. I had employees. I left them alone all day at the conservancy lab. I needed to make an appearance before they went home. I lollygagged with Mama over lunch and then I lollygagged with Ivan at the Bait Shop. It had to be close to going home time.

I didn't want Randi and Jack to think I would be disappearing for long periods. The dive took up a half day. I'd been goldbricking the rest of the time. I didn't want to give them the wrong impression, even when that impression might be founded in fact.

They were new. I was their boss.

I went to the rear deck and I turned to close up Sea Lab. I'd be gone for less than an hour. I'd finish my inspection of the labs then. I'd leave the salon opened to the fresh air. I wouldn't be gone long.

Leaving the back of Sea Lab open, I headed for the conservancy.

Randi and Jack were reading when I walked in. I went into my office to write notes on my morning dive. I could do it back on Sea Lab but the help would be leaving in less than an hour. I'd stay to lock up. I had time to write a brief assessment on my dive, it being the first of many dives I would make on the sunken freighter.

After being back a few weeks, I didn't feel like I'd been gone. I described the location of the freighter, writing the history I knew of its demise, and how long ago it went down. I'd begin to take photographs once I was satisfied that I knew the site. I needed to write down the highlights. That sealed them into my brain.

I needed a drink. I'd said all I intended to say on the dive.

"Anything to drink, guys?" I asked. "It's going on five so you want to wrap up your reading for today. You can take the books home if you like but remember to get them back to the library."

I brought back a Coke for Jack and an orange drink for Randi. I took a Coke into my office. I filed my notes and I thought about what we might do tomorrow.

I listened to Randi and Jack talk about Rachael Carson. They didn't have to tell me they were impressed by her writing.

I was locking up after sending Randi and Jack home. It wasn't quite five.

I drove back to the marina to finish on the Sea Lab.

The fishing fleet was out. It left before dawn Tuesday and it returned on Friday afternoon. It was quiet with the fleet gone. It left the cove looking empty.

I boarded Sea Lab and went to sit in my office and look out at the dock. The sea air was intoxicating. The breeze was coming from the west. It was hardly enough to ruffle the curtains but the fresh salt air was the perfume of the sea. I breathed it deep into my lungs.

I loved this place and it was another perfect day in paradise.

I needed to check the two labs on the second deck and take my SCUBA tanks to the main salon. I'd have Ivan fill them tomorrow, after I brought him his lunch.

It was too close to dinner time to worry with it now.

I completed my inspection by opening the hidden compartment where I kept my underwater cameras. They were right where I left them after my last dive before my sabbatical. I'd need them on my next dive. I needed to get some more film and reload them so they were ready when I was.

Once I was satisfied, I just wanted to enjoy being on board for a few minutes. This boat separated me from most of my contemporaries. I could go where I was needed and I took my laboratories with me. I wasn't in Bill Payne's league with a full sized ship as his research vessel, but for the Gulf the Sea Lab was the bees' knees in my book.

I was a step ahead of most marine biologists because Mr. Mosby made it so. He'd bought the yacht for the conservancy and Bill Payne, familiar with research vessels, designed each lab and knew what equipment to put in them to create state of the art labs I would need.

I'd been ready to walk away from it all. Maybe I simply needed some time to consider my future with both Ivan and Dylan in it. They weren't a factor at the time I agreed to become Harry's boy.

Living in paradise, having two fine laboratories, one floating. The friendship pf Harry and Bill made my career what it had become. Then there were the people who backed me up with their dollars, and those dollars elevating my career into a league of its own.

I remembered the first time I got a view of the Gulf of Mexico. Determined to hate every minute of our journey from Tulsa to somewhere in Florida, it was the biggest body of water I'd ever seen. It changed colors from a deep blue green to turquoise. In a place named Destin, the turquoise ran into the bay and under the bridge we went over.

The sand was white as snow. A hundred yards into the Gulf the brilliant turquoise merged into the dark blue sea.

Who knew water came in such vivid colors?

My love affair with the Gulf of Mexico was on. I'd like the water and hate everything else. Maybe I'd like the sand. The sand reminded me of a blindingly white Tulsa snow, once the sun shined.

We drove along that waterway for a thousand miles and after a thousand miles, I was more captivated.

At fourteen I had no idea how far that fascination would take me.

Destined to be seduced by the sea, as well as the boy up the beach, the rest of my life had begun. Tulsa faded into my past.

It was a long journey from Tulsa to Sea Lab, I thought

I got up to walk to the stern, stepping up on the dock. I looked toward the parking lot and then out to where the new section of dock was completed, except for marking off the slips.

No one was in sight. Ivan's car was still parked at the Bait Shop. It was five forty and I was right where I wanted to be.

I made my way up to the bridge. I looked to the west. The sun hovered on the horizon in the western sky, it's power reduced by its late in the day angle on our part of the world.

My hand was poised near the start button. I had the urge to follow the sun. I hesitated. I wasn't ten years old. I could be tempted without yielding to temptation. One day I'd follow the sun.

Maybe I'd seen Endless Summer too many times.

Maybe one day Ivan and I would sail out of the cove and follow the sun. Ivan would want to set his sails, listen to them ruffling in the wind, as the hardware jangled.

I'd want a small engine just in case.

Ivan would laugh and say, 'Whatever you want, babe."

I could see my future with Ivan in it. For too long I'd gone through the motions, feeling like half of me was missing. I wasn't thirty and suddenly the pieces of my life fell into place. The years of waiting were over and I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.

I felt a faint pang of hunger. It was time for dinner.

Ivan would see my car and he'd wait for me, I thought.

I smiled at the thought and I went about securing Sea Lab. It was going on seven. I locked the glass doors, stepping onto the dock.

I walked toward the six steps that took me to the parking lot. I'd be disappointed if Ivan didn't wait for me. I hesitated, looking toward the Bait Shop once I reached my car.

Ivan was stepping out and locking the door. He had waited.

"Hey, honey bun, ready to go to dinner? I know a swell place. Best food on the beach and it isn't far. We can take my car on account my car doesn't rattle, sweet cheeks," Ivan said.

"My car doesn't rattle," I said.

"Right and birds don't fly. I'm buying you a new one as soon as we turn a profit on my empire by the sea. What's for din-din, babe?"

"I wasn't paying attention. I had a lot on my mind."

"I take it you found what you were looking for, Clay," he said, holding the door of the Buick open for me. "You look like a man who took a wrong turn back a ways and you found your way home."

"I have. Are you OK, Ivan? Nothing you want to tell me?"

"I'm the tops, sweety pie," he said. "In case you haven't noticed."

He walked around and slid in behind the steering wheel.

"I did, but I wanted to hear you say it," I said. "As long as you're OK, I'll be fine." "You be fine all the time. You worrying again, Clay?" Ivan asked, looking at my face to see my expression.

"Is there anything you aren't telling me?" I asked. "I worry because there is so much I don't know, Ivan."

"I don't think so. I'll tell you about those ten years soon but I needed to sort through them first. I want to be ready to talk when I start talking."

"How could a thing like that not change you?"

"It would have if I'd been in the tiger cage much longer. For one thing, I'd have been dead. That's a big change."

"I don't want to think about that. You're home and that makes my life good but I can't shake the feeling there's more to come. Don't ask me what. I don't know what. It's a feeling."

"Nothing comes to mind, babe. I'm here for the long haul. Believe me when I tell you, I'm really, really happy to be home and I have no plans to leave home ever again."

"I'm glad you think so," I said. "I felt sorry for the poor kid, having me as his father and I didn't know anything about kids. Hell, I was a kid but I knew I loved Dylan and I was going to give him the best life I could. He deserves some of the credit. He's a good kid in spite of having me for his daddy."

"You raised a cool son, babe. I'm glad I'm in his life."

"Not half as glad as he is, Ivan."

"You stayed on Sea Lab quite a while."

"I had things I needed to do. You could have gone home. Dinner will be on the table by now," I said, checking my watch.

"It has nothing to do with dinner. It has to do with waiting for you, because I can wait for you, and your mama ain't letting us go hungry no matter how late we are for dinner."

"No," I said. "You put the top down. The air feels fresh."

"We'll take junior out after dinner. Take him to Goofy Golf."

"He loves this car," I said.

"Goofy Golf too," Ivan said.

"I've been thinking about a new car. Since driving this to Disney World, my car isn't quite as comfortable as this. The Chevy is the only car I've driven. Giving it up is a big move. I want to keep it."

I leaned to kiss his cheek.

"You know what scares me the most, Ivan?"

"I thought I was here to protect you. What scares you, babe?"

"You were gone a long time. I have crazy dreams. You're home but you aren't home. I wonder about where you were for those years. Maybe one you fill in the blanks, I'll relax. I know I sound like a broken record but I worry about what I don't know."

"Hey, babe, you're stuck with me. I've got my money, not to mention a chunk of yours, tied up in the cove, the marina, and my charter boat. I can't possibly afford to go anywhere for at least fifty years. After that, maybe I'll want to see Orlando before I die."

"Pull over for a minute," I said, sounding too serious.

"What? We'll be at the house in five minutes. You aren't going to slug me again, are you?"

"Pull over, Ivan. Just do it."

"Promise you'll come to my house after you put our kid to bed tonight and I'll pull over."

"I'll think about it," I said teasingly.

"You better. I can't sleep without you. I don't know how I made it without you. I think the thought of being together once it was over kept me going. I know, pull over."

Ivan eased onto the shoulder of the road.

"What?" he said.

I threw my arms around him and gave him the biggest kiss I could muster. His body relaxed against mine when I did.

I did love him so.

The kiss became a lovely lingering affair. I was putting my emotions on auto pilot and trusting that this was real and that left nothing to worry about.

"Have I ever told you that I love you?"

"You may have mentioned it," I said, kissing him again.

"Wow!" he said. "Makes waiting for you a good move on my part, hot lips."

I kissed him one more time, holding him tight. The fear that came on me quickly subsided, while I was safely in Ivan's arms. Feeling secure had begun to push other feelings aside.

"There's a lot more where those came from," I said.

"Promises, promises," he said, easing the car back onto the road.

I rested my head on his shoulder.

"You know we're only fooling ourselves, Ivan," I said.

"About what?" he asked, taking my hand.

"You getting up to go home before Dylan gets up to go to school. The last time you did that, he came into the bedroom and he asked, 'Where'd my father go?' He knows we're lovers, you know."

"I know. It doesn't hurt to let him be a kid a while longer. I don't mind getting up. Most days I go to work once I get to my house. On the days you sleep at my house, he doesn't notice you weren't in your bed the night before?"

"Yeah, but we don't talk about it. He's too mature for his own good. He's never been happier. You left a big hole in his life and he loves that you're home. He's crazy about you."

"I know. I'll make up for it. I don't know how yet, but I intend to make it up to both of you. It'll take time but you'll see."

"Be here for him while he finishes growing up. That's all he wants," I said, knowing it was what I wanted too.

Ivan turned into the driveway of the conservancy house. In spite of my fear, my life had never been better.

There was broiled sea bass and roasted oysters for dinner.

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